Who's the greatest?

  • By: Andy Schooler (Twitter: @NetTalkTennis)
  • Last Updated: June 17 2013, 9:39 BST

Who are the greatest Wimbledon players of the Open era?

  • Pete Sampras lifts the Wimbledon trophy for a seventh time in 2000
  • Martina Navratilova pictured with her prize back in 1990 

It's a tough - in some ways, impossible - question to answer.

However, judging the players on their performances on the Wimbledon lawns, our Andy Schooler offers up his opinion.

MEN

1. Pete Sampras

The true king of Centre Court reigned almost supremely in SW19 from 1993 to 2000. In that period, seven titles were pocketed with just one defeat being suffered - a shock loss to Richard Krajicek in 1996. Just think back to the 1990s and when Wimbledon came round. Wasn't it just a foregone conclusion? Criticised for his lack of personality, Sampras always said the game was all about winning and he certainly did that. There were bigger servers than Sampras but no-one used the delivery better than the American, in particular the second serve. The swinger out wide to the deuce court must have won him hundreds of points on Centre Court alone, while the big one down the T was equally devastating. He'd save break points with these serves over and over again. Not that his game was all about the serve. Sampras was one of the best volleyers the sport has seen and for years these two key elements made him virtually untouchable on courts which played faster than they do today. Sampras finished off Boris Becker, who had made Centre Court his own, slapped down Andre Agassi and also proved too good for the likes of Pat Rafter and Goran Ivanisevic. Still the greatest grasscourt player of the modern era in my book.

2. Roger Federer

Federer's 2012 triumph in SW19 saw him join Sampras by winning a seventh Wimbledon title. The Swiss has a better all-round game than Sampras ever did and some of the shots he conjures up appear to defy the laws of physics. Fine serve placement, deft touch at the net and a hugely powerful forehand are weapons the whole tour fears. Federer was also the man who ended Sampras' reign of dominance here in 2001, so why does he only sit second on the list? It's a close-run thing but while the Swiss won five times in a row - something Sampras never did - he did not win seven times in eight years. There's also a strong argument that the opposition was not at the same level. When a serious contender did come along, Federer missed out in 2008 and 2010 to Rafael Nadal (the Spaniard was injured in 2009 when Federer won). If he edge Nadal and co out this year to win for an eighth time, the Swiss can climb to the top of my list. For now though he stays at number two.

3. Bjorn Borg

If he hadn't quit at the age of 26, the Swede could be sitting atop this list. Instead he's only considered one of the greatest at number three. He won five consecutive titles here, a record equalled by Federer in 2007, but one which shows what a player he was. Mental strength was a key part of Borg's game and it was an area he took to new levels, so much so that the words 'ice' and 'cool' will forever be linked with his name. Borg never appeared to be rattled on court - he simply got on with the job of winning. Even Federer was unable to pass his record of 41 consecutive victories at the All England Club. Truly one of the tournament's greats.

4. Rod Laver

Still regarded by many as the greatest player of all-time, the Australian comes in at four on my list, mainly due to the fact that a large chunk of his career came before the Open era when professionals became eligible to play. He still managed two titles (in 1968 and 1969), making it four in all and did so playing outstanding tennis in both the fore and back court. Always held up as one of the great serve-volleyers, the 'Rockhampton Rocket' was also devastating from the baseline. Indeed he is credited with really bringing top-spin into the mainstream. His tennis in the late 60s at Wimbledon is still regarded as some of the best seen in south-west London, putting him just above men wth more Open-era titles.

5. Boris Becker

This is bound to be a controversial choice as the German edges out John McEnroe for fifth place on our list. However, you can't deny that Becker's statistics here stack up better. Like McEnroe, he lifted the famous trophy three times, but Becker also made four other finals and was a near-constant title threat from the moment he won here as a 17-year-old until his retirement in 1999. Importantly he also played some of the most exciting tennis ever seen at the tournament. His diving volleys brought a new element to the game, while his awesome serve - which earned him the nickname 'Boom-Boom' - was also a standard setter. Like Sampras, it would get him out of some tight situations - Becker was renowned for playing break points superbly. His entertaining personality made him a crowd favourite and helped propel him into my top five.

LADIES

1. Martina Navratilova

With a record nine singles titles, surely the undisputed queen of Wimbledon. Took athleticism to new heights in the women's game and made the Centre Court her own, winning six years on the spin during the 1980s. Excellent serve placement coupled with superb volleying skills ensured many of her rallies didn't go beyond three strokes, but when she did need to play from the backcourt the Czech-born star was more than capable. Despite her dominance, her on-court skills made sure she was always a crowd favourite. At present it's hard to see anyone getting near her record.

2. Steffi Graf

By winning seven titles in nine years, Graf is a clear second for me. It's hard to believe that Navratilova's reign on Centre Court was immediately followed by Graf's domination. Unlike her predecessor, the German preferred to play from the baseline but a booming forehand (which admittedly occasionally broke down) and a superb sliced backhand were shots to be reckoned with. Her trademark high ball toss was the prelude to a big first serve which also won her plenty of cheap points on the slick grass. Like Navratilova she often had opponents beaten before she walked on court, such was her fearsome reputation.

3. Billie Jean King

Twenty Wimbledon titles in total make King one of the tournament's true greats, particularly when you consider that doubles held more weight in her 60s and 70s heyday. It's often forgotten just how good a player the American was - her name is first and foremost associated with the foundation of a professional women's tour exactly 40 years ago. As her record suggests, King was a brilliant player, her serve-volley game being ideal for the lawns of SW19. Six singles titles were the highlight of her Wimbledon career - four in the Open era - and with her competitive nature make her surely the best of her generation. All in all, a living legend.

4. Serena Williams

The reigning champion is a five-time winner of the singles title following her 2012 success. When I initially mused over this list a few years back, her sister Venus got the nod due to her 'longevity' but Serena has firmly hit back on that score with last year's success - her third in four years - coming at the age of 30. A huge serve - arguably the best the women's game has ever seen - and booming groundstrokes have dismantled many opponents in SW19, while her athleticism has set new standards. Finally there are few players who can match Williams mentally with her will to win seemingly insatiable, even when on the brink of defeat. She's fully deserving of a place among the Wimbledon legends. Five doubles trophies at the All England Club with sister Venus add further weight to claims of greatness.

5. Venus Williams

The elder Williams sister's power play brought a new dimension to the women's game at the start of the new Millennium and she dominated for two years before sister Serena got in on the act. An awesome first serve has propelled her to many an easy victory at the All England Club, while off the ground she has been just as deadly. Her volleying is also underrated. Still playing depsite her ongoing battle with Sjogren's syndrome, Venus may well fall early at this year's tournament, just as she did in 2012. However, do not let recent memories cloud your judgement. Five singles titles - not to mention five doubles ones - prove her greatness on the grass of SW19.

Do you agree with Andy? Who do you think should be on the list? Email us at tennisfeedback@sportinglife.com or Tweet Andy at @NetTalkTennis to join the debate.


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